For every bullied child afraid to go to school, there are parents who feel helpless and frustrated. For every victim that finds help, there are others who face bullying alone. Bullying is within our power to stop, but children, parents and safe adults in children’s lives have to work together.
What Kids Can Do:
- Don’t bully: This seems like the most obvious tip, but it isn’t always easy to separate “bullies” and “victims.” The same child may bully or be bullied. The same child who sees bullying happening may or may not participate in some way. It’s much better to understand “bully” as an action someone does, not who someone is. Empathy, patience and understanding are skills that help keep kids from bullying and qualities everyone can improve. Practicing alternatives to aggression reduces violence and deters risk factors for bigger problems in adulthood.
- Don’t help bully: Often, more than one child will engage in bullying behavior. An “assistant” might encourage bullying and even join in. “Almost bystanders” may join in by making fun of the victim, making a power imbalance worse and allowing the bullying to persist. Some children don’t think much of bullying that doesn’t involve physical harm or threats of violence, but words can hurt just as much as a punch, and exclusion can be as harmful as a shove. The equation looks like this: aggression+power=bullying; and a kid can do a lot simply by not adding to the power of a bully or contributing to an aggressive atmosphere. Be nice!
- Respect self and others: Adults are always reminding kids and young adults about the power of respect. Bullying requires a power imbalance and aggression; however, respect builds fairness and kindness instead. Respect is the anti-bully. Self-respect reminds a person to stand up for what is right and to take the high ground even if it’s hard. It also means doing enjoyable things and spending time with likable people. Respect for others helps kids treat everyone else how they want to be treated, which makes it hard to bully and easy to stand up to protect someone more vulnerable. A little confidence and a few friends can go a long way to stop bully behavior.
- Be bully-proof: There is no way to be completely “bully-proof,” but there are ways to defuse aggression and avoid many bullying situations. Sometimes clearly and calmly asking a person to stop a specific behavior actually works! Another tactic is the “shake it off” response or to “laugh it off.” The child who bullies feels a sense of power in the victim’s frustration and rage. If a victim acts unfazed, it may be enough to put a stop to things. If that doesn’t work, it is usually possible to get away and stay away and talk to a trusted adult. Children who bully often behave better around adults and others, and routinely have favorite private places where they like to bully. These are places a possible victim can avoid. A child may feel it stinks to change behavior because of someone else’s unkindness, but sometimes it’s easier and diffuses the situation over time.
- Talk with an adult: It is the job of adults to keep children safe. Every child should have at least one or two safe adults to go to when they feel unsafe or something happens that hurts them. A lot of times it is a parent or teacher, but it could be any number of adults. A lot of bullying victims are afraid of telling in case their report gets back to the bully. They fear retaliation, being labeled a “snitch” or worry the bullying will increase. Adults who work with children are usually very knowledgeable about this, and have incredible ways to address a bullying problem discreetly. But there is no need to wait until there is a problem to talk to a grown up; sometimes talking with trusted adults builds esteem and confidence so that a young person has a plan to deal with bullying before he/she ever encounters it.
What Parents Can Do
- Don’t bully: Is it ridiculous to tell parents and caregivers “don’t bully?” Not really. Compassion starts with the person in the mirror, and conflict resolution is a skill that adults teach through their actions. When an adult listens to a child and shows they value the child’s input, it builds a stronger shared understanding, helps instill confidence and nurtures self-respect. If patience and understanding aren’t a parent’s strong suit, there are always resources available to help strengthen those skills. The important thing is for parents to support and protect their children.
- Encourage enrichment: In school and out of school, there are plenty of non-classroom opportunities for children to build skills and friendships. Sports, clubs, church groups, online games, events, libraries and museums all offer opportunities for children to succeed while nurturing relationships with peers and trusted adults. While these types of activities can also be where bullying happens, the sense of confidence and social efficacy they instill are important. Discipline, creativity, body health, teamwork, joy and problem solving all add up to powerful bullying prevention, and can help a victim feel more empowered and resilient.
- Nurture positive relationships: A child’s most important relationship is with his or her parent or caregiver, but there are relationships throughout a parent’s life and child’s life that help protect against bullying. A parent or caregiver should open up opportunities to enrich safe, supportive relationships with others, both children and adults. This means making time for kids to visit and play. It also means demonstrating healthy friendships through communication and quality time. Parents and caregivers should be sure to keep in touch with their child’s teacher and other adults in his or her life too. Strong networks of friends and relatives make a child less likely to become a perpetrator of bullying or a victim, but also provide a source of support should bullying happen.
- Listen: Children often have a funny way of telling parents and guardians about trouble they are facing. Sometimes they keep things from adults to protect other children (even one who bullies). It’s important for adults to show children that they trust them, and it’s important for adults to keep track of what is going on in their child’s social life. Sometimes names of classmates just rush by, and it’s hard to keep up, but sometimes the same name or set of names emerge as either friend or foe. Attentive listening can help a parent aid their child before bullying even comes up, and it can also empower a parent to better help a child deal with bullying issues and keep everyone safe.
- Act Fast: When bullying happens — whether a parent’s child is the one bullying or the victim of bullying — it’s important to act fast, before things become a pattern or spiral out of control. Parents should always encourage their child to tell a trusted adult about bullying as soon as they experience it or see it. It is best if a parent or caregiver does not go directly to the other child’s parents, and certainly not to the other child. It is most effective to talk to the adult in charge of the site where the bullying happens, whether a teacher, a club leader or a coach. Work with these adults on the appropriate response, and don’t be afraid to “escalate” the issue to a principal or director should things not improve. If things get increasingly serious, it is a good idea to document what is happening. It may even be necessary to take more drastic steps to ensure your child’s safety, like removing him or her from the setting, but usually it can be solved before that.
With the increasingly important role of online technology, cyberbullying is a growing threat. Most of the tips outlined above can be considered in dealing with cyberbullying, but we encourage parents and children to visit stopbullying.gov for more on this issue and more information on preventing bullying and reporting it.